Senators Stun Hurricanes in 4-1 Win

The tank took another detour tonight

Don’t adjust your sets, folks. You read that correctly. The Ottawa Senators defeated the Carolina Hurricanes. At home. On a Saturday night. Let’s try to make some sense of this aberration. (Contrary to early reports, the Senators got yet another back-up goaltender. This time around, James Reimer got the call. In all fairness to Reimer, he has haunted Sens fans for years so I don’t know how much he qualifies as a backup in these parts).

The Senators wasted no time implementing their game plan of fighting speed with speed as Anthony Duclair got a breakaway off the opening face-off and drew a penalty. Ottawa’s powerkill showed up a lot through the first 55-minutes of this game and Teuvo Teravainen broke away short-handed early in this one to set the tone. Thomas Chabot took a minor of his own while back-checking and fans got to enjoy some four-on-four, open-ice action. Colin White looked great in the ensuing minutes and kept it going all game really. Whatever injury slowed him down earlier this season seems to have disappeared because White skated as well as I’ve ever seen him in a Senators uniform. Anders Nilsson also looked sharp in the early goings of period one and never really abated.

Ottawa killed off the abbreviated penalty efficiently. However, the special teams units continued to get ice time as Dylan DeMelo took two for tripping. Ottawa’s penalty killers continued to operate efficiently by breaking up passes and getting the puck out of the defensive end without hesitation. In a bizarre twist, Ryan Dzingel and Vladislav Namestnikov dropped the gloves while Carolina had the man-advantage. The animosity between the two had spilled over from an earlier altercation after the whistle that appeared to me mostly innocuous at the time.

As five-on-five play resumed, you could really get a sense for Ottawa’s intentions to match Carolina’s speed and create chances off the rush. Most of Ottawa’s early looks came off of transition plays and stretch passes. Ottawa didn’t have much sustained pressure in the offensive zone and they failed to establish the cycle at all. Nonetheless, the Senators looked really dangerous every time they forced a Carolina turnover or broke something up in the neutral zone. Ottawa’s fourth line exemplified this style as well as any of Ottawa’s trios and they opened up the scoring:

This angle doesn’t fully do justice for the great play J.C. Beaudin made and the speed Johnathan Davidsson displayed as he gained the line. I love seeing Filip Chlapik’s tenacity here though and all three players deserved time on the highlight reel tonight. The rookie line led the Senators in expected goals-for percentage at five-on-five.

The Senators continued to generate chances at five-on-five as Tkachuk and Duclair ran riot, and Colin White reaffirmed his presence as one of Ottawa’s most electric young forwards. White drew another minor in the first and Ottawa’s powerplay once again killed all of the momentum gained at even strength. The Hurricanes had a full cycle going while on the penalty kill and Anders Nilsson really had to bail out his teammates. Watching this team at five-on-four, I really get the impression they feel lost when they don’t use that stretch pass or bank play off the boards. They can’t gain the zone with numbers and they struggle to find each other in open space once they need to cycle the puck.

Again, when the power play expired, Ottawa found their groove. That fourth line kept buzzing and creating chances as did Brady and the Duke. With Carolina reeling, Colin White used his exceptional vision to find Tyler Ennis whose shot just redirected off Namestnikov for Ottawa’s second goal of the game. And then before any of us even had time to determine conclusively if Ennis or Namestnikov touched it last, J.G. Pageau flew out of the face-off circle and beat Reimer high-glove:

Seriously, if you blinked, you missed it. And to emphasize my point, all three Ottawa goals came off the rush. Whereas Carolina produced offence in volume with sustained cycles, Ottawa made their quick strikes count with high-danger chances (ultimately Carolina had the edge in corsi while Ottawa had the edge in expected goals). As the first period wound down, Ron Hainsey iced the puck on an attempted stretch pass/run-out-the-clock trick play and Anders Nilsson had to bail Hainsey out to head to intermission up 3-0.

Score effects really took over from here. While Ottawa led in all five-on-five shot types in the first period, Anders Nilsson had his work cut out for him in periods two and three. Erik Brannstrom and Chris Tierney both took penalties in the second and with Tierney in the box, Andrei Svechnikov finally cracked through Ottawa’s penalty kill and Anders Nilsson:

You can only go to the well so often against a team with the likes of Svech, Sebastian Aho, and Dougie Hamilton on the first powerplay unit. To the Senators’ credit, the penalty kill looked great when Pageau and Namestnikov took the ice and Anders Nilsson really had himself a game (stopping 38/39 shots by the end of the night). And while Ottawa’s young defenders (namely Chabot and Brannstrom) didn’t have great games, the young forwards delivered throughout. Nick Paul drew a penalty as the second period drew to a close and in the waning moments Tkachuk and Duclair pushed to regain that three-goal lead to no avail.

Alas, the carryover powerplay did nothing to jumpstart Ottawa’s offence in the third and when the teams returned to even strength, score effects took further sway as the Senators continued to ice the puck, get hemmed in, and rely on Nilsson to bail them out. I don’t know beyond a reasonable doubt how much of this we can attribute to score effects or how much Carolina adapted their game plan to stifle Ottawa’s all-transition approach. It did look, however, like the Guy Boucher Senators started turtling out there with none of the rookies seeing any ice time late in the game while holding down the lead. As soon as Smith played his rookie line, J.C. Beaudin rung one of the post in a moment of vindication. After surviving a couple more Hurricane flurries thanks to Nilsson, Brady and the Duke went off to the races once more and Tkachuk buried the most Tkachukian goal you’ll see all week:

Play that celly at my birthday, wedding, and funeral please. From here the Senators took control to close out the game and even ended on the powerplay. Frustratingly, with the game in hand 4-1 and less than 90-seconds on the clock, Ottawa started getting creative at long last and almost converted against Carolina’s penalty killers. If I can end this recap with one thought, let me say, Ottawa needs to get crazy and experimental with special teams earlier in the game (i.e. late in period two, up by two goals) if they want to get out of this powerplay funk. Mix up the units, try the set plays, and don’t worry about making mistakes. This team gets to play with Eugene’s house money this season anyway.

Game Notes:

  • We need to talk about Carolina’s third jerseys. If you couldn’t catch the game tonight or you (like myself) don’t follow Carolina then you may have missed these. I don’t even know where to begin. A) They invite all the ridicule of the SNES and BLOTS jerseys and B) They aren’t even on black! I can accept Ottawa winning a game in a tank year that much more because any team (including the 2008-11 Senators) with an abbreviated name across their jerseys deserves to lose. At least they didn’t misspell their team name.
  • Ryan Dzingel looked extra feisty tonight. This may have to do with his early scrum with Namestnikov setting the tone or just the way the first period played out. I will keep an eye on Dzingel the next time these two teams play each other though. I have to wonder if Dzingel feels the need to step up his physical play against his former team or if he has altered his style away from pure speed and skill now that he plays in the bottom six.
  • Andrei Svechnikov looked really dangerous all game. He led the Hurricanes in individual and on-ice expected goals-for per Natural Stat Trick too so he passed both the eye- and numerical-test. He absolutely lived up to his draft pedigree in this game and he will cause headaches for the Senators for years to come. Ottawa will need to keep working on their game plan for this guy although it will prove difficult with all the young talent Carolina keeps surrounding him with./

Next up: The SNES and CAENS do it again Monday in Raleigh at 7:00!

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